Sweet success in fake candy

Sweet success in fake candy

Designer Olivia Lee's installation at design event SingaPlural earlier this year left visitors hungry.

The Marvellous Marble Factory churned out what looked like a delectable tray of bonbons, chocolate bars in gold foil partially unwrapped and ice popsicles. All very delicious-looking, except they were hand-cut from tooth- breaking granite, marble, onyx and quartz.

The installation was Ms Lee's take on SingaPlural's theme of Process. She worked with local marble and natural stone importers Polystone to create it. The multi-faceted display, which was part-art, part- design, is very much in the style of the designer who grew up with multiple ambitions.

Ms Lee describes herself as the odd one out in school who was nicknamed the "misplaced art student or the eccentric one".

"When I was young, I didn't want to be a designer - I didn't even know what being one was. Growing up, I wanted to be many things such as an architect, an illustrator, a scientist and an inventor."

It was not until her parents - who used to work in the creative industries - handed her a pamphlet for a new industrial design course at the National University of Singapore (NUS) that the pieces fell into place.

She started learning the fundamentals of design there but left two years later, after receiving a scholarship from the DesignSingapore Council to study product design at the prestigious Central Saint Martins college in London.

There, she hit her stride, becoming a "design political cartoonist" and illustrating the last page of Icon Magazine, a leading architecture and design publication. She was also published in other leading international design journals such as Wallpaper* and Nylon.

After stirring debate with her final-year project which featured hand-cast dolls of famous designers and architects - industrial designer Karim Rashid asked for his figurine in exchange for a gift from his studio but the dolls are not for sale - she went to work for British industrial designer Sebastian Bergne.

Ms Lee, 30, who graduated with first class honours from Central Saint Martins in 2008 when the global financial crisis hit, recalls: "I was one of the lucky few to get a paid job when the economy tanked. It was an endorsement of my work and abilities."

After her two-year stint with Bergne, where she worked on projects for clients such as Procter & Gamble and Swarovski, she returned to Singapore to serve her bond - first teaching a semester at NUS and then spending two years at the Economic Development Board as a senior officer looking at consumer insight and the design industry.

About 11/2 years ago, she decided to set up her eponymous studio. Since then, she has worked with companies such as Samsung, Baxter Healthcare, the ArtScience Museum as well as Singapore- based design and manufacturing company Industry+.

In April, she showed Instruments of Beauty, a collection of nine tools which apply the principles of the golden ratio, at Milan Design Week.

Mr Jeffrey Ho, executive director of DesignSingapore Council, is excited that Ms Lee is going places both in Singapore and overseas.

"She gives an interesting spin to how design is applied in everyday life. For example, in her projects Marvellous Marble Factory and Float coffee table, she highlights the nature of materials and transforms them into objects that provoke your thoughts."

Ms Lee, who is single, hopes Singapore designers will have greater clout.

"We need the backing of people in positions of influence to raise the culture of design," she says of Singapore designers.

"I hope that, in the future, there will continue to be bold choices by the local market to work with emerging design studios and young talent. Free up more opportunities, empower us and we will prove ourselves in our work."

This article was first published on July 4, 2015.
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